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Comma.ia

Comma.ai, a San Francisco autonomous driving startup, is taking the next step in its strategy to gather data about as many car models as possible through its customers — a critical step to make its software universally compatible and allow any car to drive itself.

"If we wanna make a car self-driving, we need a way to talk to it," founder and CEO George Hotz said in an interview. "We need to be able to control your car."

So far, Comma.ai has been gathering data about roads and human driving through its Chffr dashcam app and OpenPilot software, which works with its Neo device. Now it's releasing two new products — its Panda car dongle is now publicly on sale and can be used with its new analytics software, Cabana — to get more information on cars themselves.

Strategy: Comma.ai is banking on autonomous driving going the way of open systems as opposed to closed ones (which is how automakers would like to keep things). This way, companies like itself can create easily updatable software that works with cars manufactured by the automakers.

Business model: Eventually, Comma.ai plans to sell its autonomous driving software on a subscription basis to owners. The company also hopes to ink deals with insurance companies and bundle policies as part of its software services. According to Hotz, assuming his company's software is safer than human drivers, insurance companies will be more than willing to charge attractively low fees in exchange for having significantly fewer accidents to pay for. Several insurance providers have already expressed interest in the idea, adds Hotz.

No LiDAR: Hotz is outspoken about his belief that LiDAR—a sensor used to help cars "see"—is not necessary for autonomous driving, as Axios previously explored. Though a commonly used sensor by tech companies and automakers alike, Tesla is also making do without it.

Under the hood:

Currently, Comma.ai has 11 employees and has burned through about half of the $3.1 million it raised in 2016 in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz. Though Hotz wouldn't share much, he says that he's considering an initial coin offering (see a good explainer

here

) later this year as an alternative to raising more VC money.

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.

Obama stumps for McAuliffe, urges Virginians not "to go back to the chaos"

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama framed a Nov. 2 gubernatorial race as a bellwether for the Democratic Party and the country, telling a crowd at a campaign event for Terry McAuliffe on Saturday that "I believe you, right here in Virginia, are going to show the rest of the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts."

Why it matters: With just over a week to go before Election Day in the Commonwealth, McAuliffe is bringing out the big guns. The 44th president appeared on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to urge supporters to get to the polls.